Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chris' #75: Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jim Uhls, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Release Date: October 15, 1999 (U.S.)

IMDB Synopsis: An insomniac office worker, looking for a way to change his life, crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker, forming an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.

First Time
Sometime in the early aughts, via DVD rental or a friend's copy. My brother, Brent, may have bought it and shared it with me and Jeff. This film found its audience on DVD, so someone gave me the whole "you've gotta see this" spiel.

Why it's on the List
I want to try something new; before I rewatch this, I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts about it. I don't know why, but I'm kinda dreading my rewatch. I suppose it's because Fight Club is so played out at this point; it's a safe bet that dudes in college are still hanging the posters on their walls. Regardless, Fight Club has a place on my list because it did have a huge impact on my life. I know that that's far from resembling a unique experience, but nevertheless.

Those of us in our late twenties and early-mid thirties probably know people who still quote Fight Club. There are quotes from this movie that I still think about and say--mainly: "...polishing the brass on the Titanic," and "you decide your own level of involvement," which I use when applicable in conversation. Reviewing the list of quotes on IMDB, I do see some lines that I still find to be good or amusing. The majority of quotes, however, are pretty nauseating. There's nothing sadder than a thirty-year-old dude sincerely quoting Tyler Durden. I can understand Tyler's appeal to boys and young men--he makes some decent points about capitalism and consumer culture--but after a certain point, he's an exhausting character to think about.

If the movie has a saving grace after all these years, it would have to be David Fincher; he's another big reason why this film made my list. Fight Club was my first real exposure to Fincher, since I'm pretty sure I didn't see Seven and The Game until the early-to-mid 2000s. If I were to build a Mount Rushmore for my favorite contemporary film directors, David Fincher would definitely be on there.

Wikipedia mentions that Fincher "supervised the composition of the DVD packaging and was one of the first directors to participate in a film's transition to home media."

There's no citation for that line, but it makes sense; the packaging and the menus matched the film perfectly. The DVD was also loaded with special features, and David Fincher's commentary track was the first of its kind that I ever listened to. This DVD set a high bar for what a film's home release could provide.

Now, on to my rewatch...

I still heavily approve of the opening credits sequence; between the visuals and The Dust Brothers' sound, it really sets the mood for what we're about to see. The concept is cool and inventive, and eventually we find ourselves in office building with little to no lighting. As is the case with Fincher's other work, the scenes are noticeably dark. The lack of lighting adds some realism to his films, but it also helps to settle us into the subject matter.

Regardless of how you feel about the material, this movie is perfect marriage of script and director. A lot of information is thrown at us in a short period of time, and Fincher does a brilliant job of keeping everything copacetic, while stylizing it in his own unique way.

Chuck Palahniuk's schtick is to find humor in the darkest, most disgusting places. Jim Uhls captures the tone of the novel perfectly. I remember reading the book after seeing this and I've always preferred the film adaptation. I enjoy the plotting of the movie a lot more and it helps to have these characters played by Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. I still enjoy Norton's monotone narration; he's great in this, as he usually is. Same deal with Pitt. Carter is also amazing in this, but I think I appreciate her performance more now than I ever have. Fans are quick to praise the two male leads, but Carter does more than hold her own; she's often the most interesting character in her scenes.

Having said that, it's still a male-dominated script and we know very little of Marla Singer. She's labeled a tourist, a faker (among other pejoratives) and is eventually reduced to this "fuck buddy" role for our unstable antihero. The film's stance on women is problematic to say the least, but given the tongue-in-cheek nature of its overall tone, I won't fault it too much. If I recall correctly, Palahniuk, a now openly gay man, has gone on the record to express confusion over the level of adoration that meatheads and "tough guys" have for this clearly homoerotic film. But with a line like, "We're a generation of men raised by women; I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need," it's my hope that Palahniuk and Uhls are expressing that sentiment with a shitload of irony.

That line is pretty gross, but it does address a very real problem in our society--the epidemic of overgrown children. I'll be quick to note that I, too, fall short in some areas that a thirty-year-old man should not, but there are plenty of dudes in this country who take too much pride in their lack of development. That line in particular seems to sum up one of the mantras of the alt-right scum in this country, so if I could take one line out of the script, it would have to be that.

The script gets progressively douchier as the film goes on (until the big reveal is made). Mr. Robot does a great job of removing the more obnoxious aspects of the script, choosing instead to focus on the themes in Fight Club that actually work and resonate with people. Again, I won't dismiss every point that the film makes; it's just that all of those points are dialed up to 10.

But one theme that I personally relate to is the feeling of rejection that Jack (Norton) has once Tyler shows more attention to Jared Leto's character. (Side note: it's amusing to think back on a time when Leto was taken more seriously as a person.) Jack and Tyler start Fight Club together, with exclusivity being a big part of it. Unaware that the club doesn't belong to him, Jack begins to feel wounded as he sees it grow beyond his control. I have my own control issues in this way and am flawed in my desire to want to be a part of something that only me and a small group of people are involved in. Hi, film clubbers!

Despite my criticisms, there are plenty of aspects to this film that I still enjoy--Fincher's contribution, to name one. #75 is probably too high for it, but I'm not exactly sure where it belongs. In all honestly, I think I've seen Fight Club too many times to truly enjoy it anymore. That's an odd admission, but let's see how I feel about it when I'm forty!

UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to mention the other songs on the soundtrack; with Tom Waits' "Goin' Out West" and the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" it is a damn good one. Both songs play at perfect moments in the film, especially "Where Is My Mind?"--a great way to end it. My best friend in high school bought me a copy of Surfer Rosa for my birthday one year because he knew I loved that song. It's funny, I didn't end up listening to the album a lot back then because I wanted every song to sound similar to "Where Is My Mind?" And now, I love the rest of that album, Doolittle, and Come On Pilgrim. Great stuff.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • There's one more David Fincher film on my list and it'll be a long time before I get to write about it; two of his movies are on my 200-101 list.
  • This makes it back-to-back Brad Pitt picks, meaning that I only have one left. The next one is in my top 20.
  • I love Edward Norton, but this is it for him...which is to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom are not in my top 100. Moonrise almost made the cut, and while I do love Budapest, it feels too early to call them favorites. Norton is excellent in everything I've seen him in, even if the movie isn't particularly good. His performance in Primal Fear will always stick with me.
  • Helena Bonham Carter will make one more appearance on my list, and I'll be talking about that movie next weekend.


  1. Great post. I remember watching this for the first time on our old grey Mac computer with my headphones in while Mom and Dad watched something on tv behind me. This movie was a fucking revelation to me at 12. I remember writing a paper in 7th grade about why it was my favorite movie. I haven't seen it in years, so I'd be curious to see how I feel about it now.

    1. Thanks, bruv. Old grey Mac, eh? Damn that's a good memory. I think my earliest memory of watching this is just down in Brent's room on his TV. Don't recall too much. I do remember you writing that for Spindog, though.